Rashomon and the Binghamton Shooter

Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan.  But the latest grotesque mass shooting – during which a man killed thirteen people in Binghamton, New York – provoked a rash of conflicting attempts to assign a motive for the gunman’s mad acts.  Shortly after the violence became known, a Taliban sheikh in Islamabad, Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.  But since the gunman – Jiverly Wong – was a Vietnamese-American who lived with his parents outside Binghamton, the skeikh’s claim smacks of mere jihadist opportunism.

The conspiracy-minded may sense the heavy hand of Dick Cheney behind the Taliban cleric’s claim, since Cheney recently warned that President Obama’s policies were making the county less safe.  No doubt it is far-fetched to believe Cheney would employ a sheikh to mastermind a terrorist attack in order to vindicate Cheney’s dire predictions, not to mention the immoral, unconstitutional practices he embraced during the Bush era.  And that would allow Cheney to blame Obama.

Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said Wong might have been depressed because other students in his English class at the immigration center he attacked had mocked his poor language skills.  Perhaps his teacher is culpable for failing to raise Wong’s fluency level.  The bullies among his classmates merit blame, but they might merely have been attempting to acculturate more rapidly.   The students must have noticed that ridiculing anyone slightly different from mainstream bland is as American as chop suey.

Some liberals said Wong probably suffered from the prejudice of American racists against new immigrants.  Some racists blamed immigrant culture itself (them pesky non-white fureigners) and the policies which allow disturbed or unstable individuals from other countries to compete with the disturbed and unstable native born.

Gun opponents blame the killing spree on the gun culture, of which Wong was an avid member.  Second Amendment absolutists accuse the Obama regime of threatening to take away their cherished weaponry, though no such policy has been declared.  Out of fear that new, more restrictive gun regulations might someday possibly be imposed under Obama, there has been a huge recent upsurge in applications for background checks to purchase more firearms.  The NRA used to flaunt the bumpersticker: “When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Guns.”  They could amend that to read “Since Guns are Legal, Only Paranoids Hoard Guns.”

Given the recent epidemic of mass murder, with so many unbalanced individuals turning weapons on relatives and strangers alike, it is hard to understand what a “background check” actually uncovers.  The week of the Binghamton shootings, a man murdered five members of his family.  In March an Alabama gunner killed eleven.  Last Christmas Eve in Los Angeles a lunatic dressed as Santa shot nine people and himself to death.  The April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, in which 33 people died, still holds the modern record.  We can only hope no one will try to break it.  This is not a category The Guinness Book wants to acknowledge.

Many officials and pundits attribute this latest rise in rampage killing to the economic downturn.  Wong had recently lost his job at Shop-Vac, which manufactures vacuum cleaners.  You could blame Wong’s boss for giving him the boot, but even more, his former co-workers, who showed no surprise at Wong’s wanton madness.  They had even joked among themselves about how he might someday show up at work with a weapon and shoot up the place.  Ha.  Do greedy bankers and hedge fund managers deserve the blame for Wong running amok?  Yes and no but no…

Not long ago Wong’s wife left with their children, apparently adding to his embitterment.  Perhaps the heartbreak of his wife’s departure pushed him over the edge.  Maybe she realized she had to get away before he murdered his family.  In a soon-to-be-posthumous letter to a local TV station, Wong himself blamed police harassment.  Or as Wong put it: “Because undercover cop gave me a lot of ass during eighteen years.”

The potential list of contributing culprits to this senseless horror is ample, even if tangential and contradictory.  In Rashomon, the classic Japanese story made into a film by Akira Kurosawa in the 1950s, each person involved in a crime conveys their very different versions of the incident.  Even the dead murder victim testifies through a medium at a courtroom séance to offer his take.  If we could contact Jiverly Wong through a spirit medium, he might be angry that others appear to share any responsibility for the act he alone committed.

Suicidal killing sprees are desperate outbursts against feelings of impotence that corner the killer.  A murderous rampage is a final, irrational attempt to be taken seriously.  Jiverly Wong wanted to make a statement in the worst possible way.  And so he did.  The pain he inflicted will linger long in many lives, but he himself will soon be forgotten.  Who can name the Virginia Tech gunman?

Victims of the American social experiment who go down shooting are doomed to justifiable obscurity.  They are but symptoms and statistics and by now, cliches.   But their enablers and accomplices – human and systemic – remain among us.  That is why we tend to look beyond the crazed shooters, to identify the people and problems that poisoned their brains.  So they don’t poison ours.

JAMES McENTEER is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Political Documentaries (Praeger 2006). He lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia.



More articles by:

James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It